Thursday marks exactly one year since we filed our lawsuit on behalf of Tea Party and other conservative groups wrongfully targeted by the Internal Revenue Service. Lois Lerner, President Obama and the left have repeatedly and falsely claimed that the targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups was simply the “boneheaded” decision of a few rogue, low-level IRS agents in Cincinnati. New emails uncovered this month from senior IRS officials in Washington prove otherwise.
Much of the coverage of these emails woefully misses the smoking gun. Washington wasn’t just involved; Washington directed the targeting from Day One.
These emails show that within 24 hours of the first Tea Party case being flagged in early 2010, senior IRS officials under Ms. Lerner’s command in Washington took control.
Understanding the initial sequence of events in Washington is the key to understanding how D.C. officials directed the targeting:
Feb. 25, 2010: In an email chain between senior IRS officials in Washington and field offices in Cincinnati and California titled “High Profile Case — Does [Exempt Organizations] Technical Want It?” Holly Paz, who would later become Ms. Lerner’s deputy in Washington, was made aware that a “potentially politically embarassing [sic] case involving a ‘Tea Party’ organization” had been flagged. By the next morning, Ms. Paz requested that it be sent to Washington, “given the potential for media interest.”
March 16-17, 2010: The same email chain, now titled “High Profile Case — EO Technical Would Like It,” continues, with Ms. Paz acknowledging that she had “one Tea Party case up here” and instructing Cincinnati to send “a few more cases” to Washington and to “hold the rest.” Ms. Paz, from Washington, clearly instructed the Cincinnati IRS office that Washington would be responsible for future Tea Party cases, stating, “we will work with [Cincinnati] in working the other cases.” The chain continues with senior IRS officials in Cincinnati and California confirming their implementation of Washington’s orders to “hold” the “Tea Party cases.”
April 23, 2010: Steven Grodnitzky, the acting manager of EO Technical, directly below Ms. Paz in Washington, instructed his staff to create a “[Sensitive Case Report] for the Tea Party cases.” He further instructed senior IRS officials in Cincinnati and California that his office in Washington was working on the first “2 Tea Party cases” and that their offices should “coordinate” with his office and set up “a call” before developing the rest of the cases. Emails over the next few days between Mr. Grodnitzky in Washington and IRS officials in Cincinnati and California, under the subject line “Tea Party Cases,” show that coordination being put in place.
July 6, 2010: Ms. Paz instructed Mr. Grodnitzky to follow up with the IRS teams in Cincinnati and California and remind them “we have been handling Tea Party applications the last few months.” Mr. Grodnitzky, again from Washington, reiterated the instructions, “[Exempt Organizations Technical] is working the Tea Party applications in coordination with Cincy … . Because the Tea Party applications are the subject of an SCR, we cannot resolve any of the cases without coordinating with Rob.” “Rob” is presumably Rob Choi, who was then director of rulings and agreements in Washington, directly below Ms. Lerner. It was Ms. Paz who replaced Mr. Choi as Ms. Lerner’s deputy in December 2010.
From there, we know the applications of conservative groups were held for two more years, until senior IRS officials in Washington, including the IRS chief counsel’s office, developed unconstitutionally intrusive demand letters, which began being sent out in early 2012.
At the American Center for Law and Justice, we began receiving contacts from numerous conservative groups in March 2012 about these unconstitutionally intrusive IRS demand letters — including demands for donors and other impermissible information requests. They came from IRS offices in Cincinnati, California and Washington, including some signed by Ms. Lerner herself. After stalling for another year, the IRS admitted and “apologized” in May 2013, but intentionally withheld the large role played by the D.C. headquarters. To this day, nearly a dozen of our clients still have not received a determination from the IRS regarding their tax-exempt status — with one organization waiting for nearly five years.
The command to “hold” the applications of conservatives came from Washington in 2010 and is continuing in 2014.
The Obama administration has thus far successfully stonewalled and deflected attention from the truth. The fact that they willfully ignore that these direct orders came from Washington is the heart of the scandal itself.
Washington orchestrated it. Washington directed it, and no amount of Obama administration spin will change this fact. Mr. Obama and the IRS must be held accountable to preserve the integrity of free speech in the United States.
Jordan Sekulow is executive director and Matthew Clark is a lawyer at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents 41 conservative groups from 22 states in a lawsuit against the IRS.